12/05/2007 12:00AM

Busy weekend for Valenzuela

EmailINGLEWOOD, Calif. - For a guy who has had something of a cold start to a comeback following an 11-month layoff, jockey Patrick Valenzuela is in high demand across the nation this week.

Friday, he travels to Delta Downs in Louisiana to ride Overextended in the $1 million Delta Jackpot Stakes and Champagne Eyes in the $300,000 Delta Princess Stakes.

Saturday, he is back at Hollywood Park to ride four races, including Sudan in the $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup.

On Sunday, Valenzuela will ride Rollicking Caller in the $175,000 Zia Park Distance Championship in New Mexico.

Through it all, Valenzuela has his eye on the Dec. 26 start to the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting, a four-month season where he hopes to be fighting for the riding title.

At this meeting, Valenzuela has been reduced to a supporting player, a role to which he is not accustomed but one that has not entirely surprised the 45-year-old jockey.

Valenzuela returned from rib and knee injuries on Nov. 3, making his comeback at Zia Park in New Mexico. He was licensed in that state while negotiating with California racing officials for a provisional license that would call for random drug testing.

Valenzuela agreed to the terms of a provisional license in California in mid-November, and began riding at Hollywood Park on Nov. 17. Through Sunday, Valenzuela had won with 7 of 67 mounts since his comeback, including 4 of 48 mounts at Hollywood Park.

His overall results have not met his satisfaction.

"At this point, I thought I'd have a few more winners," he said. "I was off for a year. I'm not worried about it."

Valenzuela spent Wednesday morning zipping around the Hollywood Park barn area, working horses. He did not ride the afternoon, serving the second day of a three-day suspension for causing interference in the Hollywood Turf Express on Nov. 24.

Valenzuela said he has experienced no major problems with his knees since his comeback.

In November 2006, Valenzuela was kicked in the ribs by a horse in a paddock accident at Hollywood Park. At the time, he admits, his knee bothered him, which made crouching in the saddle difficult. He sometimes appeared to be riding higher than normal in the saddle.

While recovering from the rib injury, Valenzuela opted to undergo knee surgery. He had hoped to return to riding last spring, but postponed his comeback, first until the summer and finally until last month.

"It will be a little sore because there is some arthritis," he said of his knee.

The lengthy absence led to racetrack talk that Valenzuela was suffering from a recurrence of substance-abuse problems that have plagued his career at times. Valenzuela vehemently denied that he was having any sort of personal problems, but the terms of the provisional license include the same provision for random drug testing that existed in previous contracts.

Valenzuela has four rides on Saturday's 10-race program, but wishes he had more. He expects to fight for the lead in the jockey standings at Santa Anita, but knows it will not be easy.

Garrett Gomez is in peak form, while younger riders such as Michael Baze, Tyler Baze, Martin Garcia, Alonso Quinonez, and Joe Talamo are building reputations as top-class riders on one of the nation's toughest circuits. In addition, Rafael Bejarano and Julien Leparoux have recently relocated from Kentucky, further boosting the Southern California jockey's room.

Valenzuela's most recent riding title came at the 2005-06 Santa Anita winter-spring meeting, He knows it will be difficult to win again this winter, especially with so many younger riders willing to ride the lesser races required to win a title.

"I'm looking forward to a big Santa Anita," he said. "I can't wait to get going."

Irish colt to try Turf Cup in U.S. debut

Sudan, a 4-year-old Irish-bred colt, is making his U.S. debut in Saturday's Grade 1 Turf Cup, which is run at 1 1/2 miles on turf and has drawn a field of eight.

Sudan is making his final start for English trainer Michael Jarvis before being turned over to California trainer Bobby Frankel. Owned by Gary Tanaka, Sudan has won 2 of 12 starts, including the Group 1 Gran Premio de Milano in Italy in June. In his only subsequent start, Sudan finished last of 10 in a Group 3 race in Sweden on Sept. 9.

The Turf Cup is led by Sunriver, the winner of the Grade 2 Bowling Green Handicap at Belmont Park in July; the European import Champs Elysees; and Spring House, the winner of the Grade 3 Carleton Burke Handicap at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting in October.

The field will not include Runaway Dancer, 8, who was second in the 2006 Turf Cup. Trainer Dan Hendricks said that Runaway Dancer "had a little bit of a dull work" recently and will be given a break.

"We'll turn him out and freshen him up for another year," Hendricks said.

The race is likely to be run on a less-than-firm surface. There is a forecast of rain for Southern California on Friday and Saturday.

Isipingo to try out synthetic

Bold Chieftain, the winner of the California Cup Classic at Santa Anita last month, and Buzzards Bay, the winner of the Californian Stakes here in June, lead a field of 10 in Saturday's $100,000 Native Diver Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on the synthetic main track.

The race marks the synthetic-track debut of Isipingo, who has placed in three graded stakes on turf since mid-August. Trained by Craig Dollase, Isipingo was considered for the Turf Cup until rain was forecast. Isipingo has won 3 of 10 starts and $221,700 on turf.

"He hasn't run very well on a soft course," Dollase said. "We've always wanted to try him on the Cushion Track, and this is the opportunity. He trains so well on the stuff."

In his only appearance on a good turf course, Isipingo was fifth in the Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Handicap in September as the 2-1 favorite.